Pixar's John Lasseter Talks Gaming, 'Disney Infinity' (Q&A)

John Lasseter
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Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer

Disney’s creative chief discusses the opportunities video games open up for film franchises.

John Lassseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and The Walt Disney Animation Studio, has been very involved in the development of the upcoming cross-platform video game release Disney Infinity. He’s worked closely with Disney Interactive and developer Avalanche Studios to create a new gaming platform that bridges the gap between toys and interactive entertainment.

When it launches in June, Disney Infinity will allow fans of hit movie franchises like Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles to explore original interactive adventures. The first wave of 40 collectible toys will also be interchangeable through a Toy Box mode, allowing characters from different film universes to interact as virtual toys.

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With its recent closure of Disney Epic Mickey developer Junction Point Studios, Disney is adding its take to a new cross-platform gaming genre that Activision has established with its Skylanders franchise. Sales of the first two games in that series, along with dozens of action figures that unlock new characters in-game, have topped $500 million. Activision will launch the third game, Skylanders Swap Force, later this year and introduce interchangeable action figures for more in-game combinations.

Lasseter talks about the new opportunities Disney Infinity opens up for film franchises and discusses the evolution of video games in this exclusive interview.

The Hollywood Reporter: How have you seen the role of video games evolve over the years since you first started collaborating on Pixar Games back with Toy Story?

John Lasseter: The first game I ever worked on was based upon our first movie at Pixar, Toy Story. It was really fun to see our characters come alive in the video game. When we create a movie, we have to do three things really well: tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat, where they can’t wait to see what happens next and it’s unpredictable; populate that story with really memorable and appealing characters, and put that story and those characters in a believable world.

For video games, it was like we have the characters and we have the world, what other stories can we tell in it? What other adventures can we have? There’s the type of game where you follow, roughly, the story of the movie. Then there’s also the games where you go, “Maybe it takes place right after the movie happened,” and we can do something else. So it was an extension of the storytelling with the characters in the world from the movies, and I just fell in love with that aspect of it.

THR: What opportunities do video games open up in the expansion of film stories and characters, especially as ideas are cut from theatrical films?

Lasseter: In creating our movies, we have these amazing characters we’ve created and crafted over the development of an animated feature film. We put a lot of effort into making the world believable in what you can and can’t do. In taking those two things and going into the interactive storytelling medium, it’s something completely different than doing a movie, because it’s really for one person; the player or user. It’s for them to interact with your characters in your world, and they are in charge of where the story goes. They are in charge of “do I go right, left, or straight.” If you go right over there this story will happen. If you go straight, a different branch of the story will happen. If you go left, another branch.

It’s really fun to start thinking in those terms. It’s like creating a really alive world; a world that’s truly alive in everywhere that’s going on. Right now, outside this room, there are other stories that are happening. You can just turn your camera, walk out and go find those stories.

That’s what you do in developing an extension of our characters in the interactive, computer video game world, is that. It is fun to think about what’s going on outside? What’s here? What’s there? Let’s go see if we can find it and develop it. I get so excited about that, because it really is in the hands of the user.

THR: What excites you about the direction and opportunity video games are opening up today?

Lasseter: I think Disney Infinity is exciting. It’s hard to even call it a video game, because it’s so different. What excites me about this is how it’s going to put more and more of what happens in the game into the hands of the user; it’s up to them. You can play it to where everything’s laid out for you. There’s a quest, the world you play in there, and all that stuff; it’s really fun to do that. There’s also this other side where it’s like, “What are you going to do today?” It’s completely up to you, and I think that’s what is so exciting. I think it’s going to take the whole game industry into this new place, especially with bringing together all of the Disney and Pixar characters in one place that you can play with. That is so fresh and original, and it’s very exciting.